Those of us with a background in technology have long been familiar with the conundrum of business-to-IT alignment. We often find ourselves in the middle of tussles between
- Business people who don’t (and don’t wish to) understand the complexities of IT, considering it something of an ivory tower, and
- IT people, many of whom value technical exactitude and purity above actual return on investment
This divide will be instantly recognisable to millions of knowledge workers around the world, but after numerous prominent failures of alignment, it’s gradually being overcome via business partner models, enterprise architecture, better collaboration, and the continuous encroach of technology into all of our private lives. The latter is particularly significant, with many businesses struggling to keep up with the rich, social experiences that their customers and employees can get for free at sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter.
So with the business/IT divide a well-established phenomena, it’s amazing just how few texts on “innovation” fail to discuss the way in which the divide manifests itself in that domain. Here's my interpretation:
In most industries, business people will think first-and-foremost of Market-Pull innovation—unusual or creative ways to respond to established market needs. (For example, the automotive airbag was a response to the demand for better crash safely in cars.)
However, many technologists will recognise only Technology-Push innovation—the research and development of inventions, in the hope that a problem will subsequently offer itself up. (One example is the invention of MP3 encoding, which has subsequently largely displaced the compact disc.)
Coming to recognise these two basic flavours can help organisations surmount many of the semantic debates about the word “innovation”. And sorting out the language can be a critical stepping-stone to identifying gaps in innovation strategy, with most organisations opting for some composite of the two types once they recognise that both exist!
I was quite pleased when I first recognised these two flavours, and felt very comfortable when I learnt to work with them.
So it was a mixed blessing when I started meeting Italians …
Marzia Aricò is the designer working for the Hot Spots Movement. She has a background in both design and innovation, and is an advocate of Design-Driven innovation—a way of adapting creative design processes to produce radical innovation which are still based on perceived market demand. I’ll be watching with interest to see how this third way takes-off, and in the meantime you can read her description of it here.